It was one of my first times in a Chabad house. The rabbi had been bugging me to go, and a friend had encouraged me to come, so I thought, “Okay, fine, I might as well go so they’ll just leave me alone.”
And so now here I was with all these… Jews… these people who desperately were clinging to their faith and community.
They were all sitting and chatting, and I was sitting in the back not chatting, not even to my friend. I was just gonna sit through this, let the time pass, and then get the hell out.
And then up stood the man. Apparently, this man had written a book against intermarriage.
As he started his speech, he tried to give us what he thought were very reasonable points as to why we should get married to our family; this weird, disgusting, incestuous reasoning that bugged me beyond belief.
“Well, once you get older, studies say that you’ll care more about religion.”
“High incidence of divorce…”
Blah blah blah. All I heard was, “I’m a discriminatory fool. Listen to me because I wrote a book. Blah blah blah.”
And when he was all done, and everyone applauded, I figured they were just being polite. Surely no one actually bought this garbage? Marry someone just because of their religion? Don’t marry someone you love? Seriously?
But then the Q&A started, and everyone started agreeing with him. Not one person stood up and said something brave; said something like, “Sir, you are an idiot. Your Bronze Age thinking sicken me.”
No, they were all saying things like, “Oy, marrying outside the family makes you a traitorous fool,” or something along those lines.
I was sick to my stomach listening to these people. Watching the rabbi smile and nod and agree. Watching Mr. Book Man do the same.
I wanted to protest, I wanted to say something. But I was so sick of it, so grossed out by it all, that I just stood up and walked out.
It’s now about eight years or so later. I’m married to this Super Jew woman. Like, she’s not just Jewish, she’s a Jew Squared. If she was a dude, she’d be wearing five kippahs under three black hats.
And even worse: I’m happy! I feel like I made the right choice! And I feel like others should make the same choice.
I was thinking about this story last night, when I was reading a post on Reddit from a non-Jew asking for advice about dating a Jewish gal. I remember the moment I read even just the title, I felt this knot in my stomach. I felt sick. And as I read, oy, I wanted to cry. It really hurt to read that this woman was so seriously dating this man. And she was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Oy.
Part of me wanted to go on there and spew a bunch of angry words at him: “You idiot!” “How dare you!” “You have no idea what you’re doing!”
I wanted to find the woman and say, “No, no, no, you don’t get it. Oy, what a mistake you’ll make. Oy oy oy.”
But then, like I said, I remembered that moment in my past eight years ago… me, in that room, and how sickened I was.
And I realized… oh my gosh, I had the exact same feeling at that time that I do now… but directed in the opposite way. I had that same knot in my stomach, that same anger, that same sickened, disgusted feeling.
Eight years ago, I wanted to strangle the man who was telling us to only marry nice Jewish girls. Yesterday, I wanted to strangle a non-Jewish man for stealing one of our own.
And I think it was when that realization hit me, when I had that perspective, that my heart pumped a bit slower. That my breathing went back to something normal.
I didn’t want to yell anymore. No strangling, even.
Instead, I turned off the computer and thought.
I thought about all the other times I had written some angry message online or gotten upset with someone for saying something I felt was out of line. I thought about the way people talk to each other so often around these topics. As if they know it all, as if they are some sort of expert, as if the other person is a sick, twisted bastard for daring to think differently.
I was thinking about a recent article by Dennis Prager I read that stereotypes all liberals as “haters of anything old”. I was thinking about the Huffington Post, where anyone who isn’t a liberal is spit up and chewed out. I was thinking about Islamophobia and antisemitism. I was thinking about the way people talk about Israel, they way they talk about raising kids, the way they talk about G-d…
And, oh my gosh… I realized how easy it is, how incredibly easy it is, to think that we know so much more and everyone knows so little, and how they don’t deserve our time. All they deserve, in our minds, is to be demonized and exorcised.
It’s just so easy to think that way. And so much harder to realize that a person could just as easily think one way as another. That everyone has a valid life experience that has brought them, by whatever complicated way, to a belief that they care about.
It was only when I was forced to confront the fact that I had lived both sides of a fierce debate that I could really accept this.
And while I still believe with all my heart, with every inch of me, that a Jew should only marry another Jew… I think that people in these debates need to realize just how deserving of respect the other person is and that, even if his beliefs are dead wrong, they come from a place of sincerity that deserves respect.
Because they deserve that we should assume that their thoughts are valid. They deserve our confidence in them.